Watching the state legislature at work this session is worse than watching the proverbial sausage being made.
Before ending its session early Wednesday morning, members of the legislature took one more crack at government overreach, trying to pass measures that would limit the authority and decision-making ability of local city and county governments. And they did so through underhanded methods that should put them to shame.
Members of a conference committee led by Sen. Chad Barefoot and Rep. Paul Stam — a panel of House and Senate members that is supposed to hash out the differences between their bills — inserted new language into an old bill, then used a procedural maneuver to send it to the Rules Committee, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported. From there, the bill would have gone to the House floor for a vote before members could absorb its implications.
Fortunately, watchdogs from the media and advocacy groups, as well as other legislators, were paying attention, and the Rules Committee killed the bill.
If passed, it could have overhauled a wide range of nondiscrimination ordinances, housing regulations and workplace regulations that some cities and counties have adopted or may adopt. It would have banned local ordinances to establish a higher minimum wage. It would have voided local ordinances governing housing and rental practices, possibly affecting Winston-Salem’s efforts to encourage housing diversity, Mayor Allen Joines told The Associated Press.
And, according to Equality NC and other groups, the legislation would have scrapped nondiscrimination ordinances in several communities , hurting the LGBT community.
It’s hard to discern a motive for this attempt at tying local governments’ hands, beyond simply exerting more and more control — which seems to be motive enough for this legislature, as seen by previous attempts this session to restructure local elections and redraw districts to Republicans’ advantage. The legislation would have hit the LGBT community and the poor, making their lives more difficult than they already are.
It also seems to be common practice now to try to sneak these changes through rather than permit debate.
“It’s an unwarranted intrusion on local authority. The word outrageous barely covers how truly disgusting this kind of ‘government’ is,” Wake County Commissioner John Burns said in an email to supporters Tuesday.
Barefoot defended the bill by saying that it was needed to streamline regulations that are hampering businesses across the state, according to The News & Observer.
But Winston-Salem isn’t Edenton or Raleigh. The hiring and housing ordinances in either of those places may not work here. Local legislators and administrators are in a better position to know what their residents need — certainly more so than a legislature that tries to tie their hands.
Fortunately, the legilsation failed, but we condemn these repeated underhanded tactics. This isn’t the way democracy is supposed to work.